Rich Handley Author and Editor

Styx’s Cyclorama: A Return to Form

I’m a lifelong Styx fan, but I tend not to listen to their work after their album Kilroy Was Here (the last studio album to contain the five band members considered the classic lineup) because their next two releases, Edge of the Century and Brave New World, were such huge disappointments.

I’d stayed with them for thirteen albums and was able to enjoy even the weaker early ones, like The Serpent Is Rising and their self-titled debut Styx, because incredible albums like The Grand Illusion and Paradise Theatre kept me interested. But after Kilroy Was Here, it started to go south fast, and so I never bothered listening to their most recent four albums. (Some might say it went south with Kilroy Was Here, but I’m unapologetic in my love for that one.)

The past few days, however, I’ve been going through the entire Styx discography in release order, and right now I’m listening to 2003′s Cyclorama for the first time. To my great surprise, I really like it. This is their first album following the tumultuous departure of Dennis DeYoung, who had made the above two albums into mega-pop cheese fests, and it’s such an improvement over that pair of disasters.

I had missed Styx’s older rock-and-roll sound, but with Cyclorama it apparently came back without my realizing it. The album recaptures that fantastic sound they had around the time of Crystal Ball, Equinox, and Pieces of Eight, and it illustrates what I’ve always known: with Tommy Shaw and JY Young doing the vocals, Styx could get by just fine without Dennis DeYoung and his diva attitudes and endless love ballad cheesiness.

It’s unfortunate DeYoung ended up on such bad terms with his longtime friends over their different views of the types of songs the band should be performing. DeYoung’s vocal talent is amazing, and he sang some of the group’s best tunes in their prime. But eventually, he started bringing Styx in the wrong direction. Clearly, the band thought so, too, because there’s a song on Cyclorama that just contains the following lyrics:

Bourgeois pig
You got too big
You forgot where you came from
You big pop star
You took it too far
You better get humble and then some

Ooof. I wish I could have been there to see his reaction to THAT one… assuming he listened to their music without him in the lineup. Also, those lyrics are hilariously performed by actor Billy Bob Thornton, which I did not expect–and which works surprisingly well. In any case, I hope the next three albums are this good. Now I just need to figure out the symbolism of the massive dangling carrot.

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